Sunday, March 18, 2012

Generosity: Women's History Month

(photo creative commons)

Upon being introduced to a librarian recently, I was asked, "Did you know Edith?" I did. We could go on then, knowing that we were members of the same "club." Many people are part of that club who were taught by or worked for Miss Edith Siegrist.

She was an excellent teacher--firm and demanding, but also kind and encouraging. My friend and I worked for her in the university library during our years as students there.

After graduation, Miss Siegrist and I exchanged annual Christmas greetings. I enjoyed hearing about her travels,the books she was reading, playing in the church bell choir, and special luncheon dates. In return, seemed to enjoy hearing about mine. Every year, she offered encouragement to help me make the most of my abilities.

Born in 1925, Edith was an independent, professional woman in a time when that was not an easy way of life. She received many well-deserved honors including the Mountain Plains Library Association's Distinguished Service Award, the South Dakota Library Association's Librarian of the Year Award, and the American Library Association's Extraordinary South Dakota Librarian of the 20th Century Award (with her co-worker and friend, Elaine Meyer).


Her generosity of spirit went beyond Christmas card notes and academic guidance, however. When she passed away last summer, big news revealed that she bequested monetary gifts toward several organizations, including a large donation to help the Vermillion Public Library reach its fundraising goal to begin constructing an addition. This expansion and renovation will provide space for materials and programming for generations to come.

I'm thankful to be a member of the "club" of Miss Siegrist's students and am happy to meet others from that club. We know now that her most important lessons reached far beyond classroom walls.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bearing Witness: Women's History Month

(© Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

Women's History Month usually reaches back across the decades or even centuries for examples of women who broke ground in various life arenas. Today, I'm going to reach back just a little while and mention Marie Colvin, American journalist for the London Sunday Times.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because she recently made news as one of several journalists killed during a shelling in Homs, Syria. Or maybe you heard her name in the news a few years ago when she lost her eye during Tamil Tiger attacks in Sri Lanka. Or you may have wondered about a picture of a woman reporter wearing an eye patch.

(photo by syriana2011 creative commons)

Generally, reporters are supposed to get their bylines into the news, not themselves. Why would a middle-aged woman continue to put herself in dangerous places? Marie Colvin went where others were afraid to go so that she could bear witness to what was happening in the world, according to NPR's Phillip Reeves. Read the transcript here. Reeves closes his remarks with this: "She stressed the importance of continuing to cover conflicts. She acknowledged it is very dangerous. But she said people have a right to know what their governments are doing in their name, a right that Colvin and several others have just died for."

This report, and this one from the New Yorker, and this fabulous portrait and article with links from BoingBoing (caution: language alert) made me appreciate Ms. Colvin and everyone else who seeks to bear witness and bring on-the-spot information to the rest of us.

And I ask myself and you, gentle reader, to what do you bear witness? Is it big enough to stake our lives on?